Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is a huge issue. It is estimated that over three-quarters of new mothers face some pregnancy or maternity discrimination at work. 54,000 are forced to leave their jobs every year before, during, or after maternity leave because of it.
Unfortunately, the legal sector is not immune to this sort of discrimination. Returning to your career after maternity leave is a significant change. You have new priorities and pressures on your precious little time. The number one thing that can make this transition go smoothly is flexibility and understanding from your firm. The problem is that law isn’t known for being flexible.
Some firms are leading the change with excellent maternity packages. However, this still isn’t enough for most working parents. What happens if you work in a firm that doesn’t offer a generous maternity leave package? Even if you do, how will you be supported when you return to the workplace? Is flexible working accepted and encouraged? Will you be treated the same as colleagues who do not have children?
Back to work
When they return to their legal careers, the main problem for parents is a lack of flexibility. Often the prospect of returning to an intense role can be both concerning and disheartening for new mums.
When Setfords consultant solicitor Lauren Dimmack had her second son she struggled with the idea of returning to the office:
“When I was on maternity leave with my second child, I wanted to go back to work as a solicitor, but I wasn’t looking forward to going back to a traditional law firm. I wanted to have some flexibility to work around the children.”
Law firms are often unwilling to be flexible, or they offer options under the guise of flexibility, such as working from home or flexible working. However, in reality, billable hours targets for lawyers returning to work are often incredibly high and parents can struggle to keep up with the workload.
“In a traditional law firm, I was supposedly ‘part time’ but in reality I was working all hours in my job. I felt like I never did anything with my son and I felt like I was failing at being a mum.”
Parents are also limited in their ability to be there for their children when they want to be and need to seek approval from the firm to take time off.
Tracey O’Dwyer is a family lawyer who struggled to manage parenting with her legal career, both when returning from maternity leave and once her children got older. She says:
“At the traditional firms, there was always a conflict. If the children were unwell or there was a school event I wanted to attend, I’d have to go and clear any time away from my desk with a boss beforehand. School holidays were always very tricky, and the lack of autonomy was challenging.”
So what is the answer?
What can law firms do to help new mothers ease back into the workplace after maternity leave? How can parents have a successful career and be there for their children? At Setfords, we believe that consultancy is the answer.
Firstly, there’s the opportunity to work with complete flexibility. Many law firms offer ‘flexibility’ to returning parents, such as working from home or a four-day week instead of five. However, this isn’t true flexibility at all. Your targets and obligations stay the same. If you have a last-minute childcare emergency, you just have to figure it out. And, if you need an afternoon off to take your child to the doctor, you’ll have to clear it with your boss first, even if you’re working from home.
Consultancy takes away all of these pressures by giving you the freedom to work whenever, however, and wherever you want, without having to answer to anyone. Claire Konstantino, a Setfords Conveyancing Lawyer, says:
“The flexibility of choosing the hours you work so that you can fit work around family life has been the greatest benefit of consultancy for me.”
Lauren is now much happier with the balance that she has between her home and working life:
“Now I can do the school run, which I’ve always wanted to be able to do. I can get as much work done as I can during school hours and I can be there when they have nativity shows or sports days. It has meant that my home life has dictated my work life rather than the other way around”
Lawyers returning to work also worry about being passed over for promotion or being viewed as less dedicated than those without a family. However, as a consultant, you go straight to the top. With no hierarchy, everyone is equal. You can bill as much or as little as you’d like to fit around family commitments and still have access to the same support, community, and network.
If this wasn’t enough, most consultants also enjoy greater financial rewards compared to similar roles at traditional law firms. This means they have the freedom to work less for the same income, or earn more for the same amount of work. Naturally, this suits many lawyers returning from maternity leave as it gives them more freedom to set their own income.
Lauren has found that the potential to earn is much greater:
“In the future, I’ll definitely take advantage of the ability to grow my case load and earn more. When the children were very young I only had a few clients and it was great to be free from targets. Now that I’m slowly working to build that up I’m definitely seeing the financial benefits.”
So, if you’re considering your next move after maternity leave, consultancy could be what you’re looking for. Balancing a new family with a successful career can be tricky, but you can find a balance. Consultancy means that you’re prioritising flexibility and building a lifestyle that works for you and your family without having to answer to anybody else.
Is consultancy for me?
If you are interested in becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.
The next step towards a better way of working…